Editorial Style Guides (or Style Sheets)–What Are They?

by Rita Braun

Do you write nine-thirty in the morning; or 9:30 A.M., AM, a.m. or am? Web site, Website, or website? How you write, literally, is a matter of style–a style either you or your client picks. Styling your words consistently—say, expressing “Web site” the same every single time you write it—is a writing tool to help your readers “get” what you’re communicating, faster.


Editorial style guides, sometimes referred to as style sheets, inform writers and editors how text, tables, images, and video (for online pubs) should appear in your publications to ensure they appear consistently, every time. For example, there are a variety of ways to punctuate text (place a comma after "and" in a series, or not?), express it (etc., and so on), and number it (three, 3, or iii).

Styling text, tables, images, video, and document layout is based on either your or your client’s editorial preferences. If you have editorial control over your client’s content, then you create your own style guide as you write and edit, and consistently stick to it. Alternatively, your client will either provide you with its own style guide or tell you to follow a style manual published for a particular audience or industry.

An example of an industry style manual is the Chicago Manual of Style (CMS), typically used by corporations and research organizations. The 15th edition contains over 900 pages on how to style text and documentation!! Overwhelming as that is, you’ll likely find that once you get some basic style guidelines committed to memory, you can easily make your way through a lot of content without having to constantly refer to the style guide.

Effective writing gets your point across quickly and clearly. Styling your publication’s text consistently is one way to accomplish that.

Sample Editorial Guidelines

  • abbreviations
    sample guideline:
    Do not abbreviate state names in running text.
    example: I moved from Colorado to Montana last year.
  • acronyms
    sample guideline: Unless commonly known, always spell out an acronym the first time it is expressed, followed by the acronym in parentheses; write the acronym, only, from that point on.
    example, first appearance: National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE)
    example, second appearance: NEFE
  • capitalization
    sample guideline:
    Use lower case for a non-specific academic title; capitalize it when used before a person’s name.
    example: I was summoned to the dean’s office; I was summoned to Dean Biddlecomb’s office.
  • dates
    sample guideline:
    Use the “month day, year” construction only; never month/day/year
    example: March 23, 2010
  • numbers
    sample guideline:
    Spell out numbers one through nine, use ordinals for 10 and above .
    I bought three 20-pound bags of dog food.
  • punctuation
    sample guideline:
    When a colon follows an italicized word, italicize the colon.
  • titles
    sample guideline: Italicize names of publications, movies, and websites; place quotes around names of articles and web pages.
    example: The Yahoo! Finance article “How I Made $1 Million Before Graduation Day” makes me wonder what road sign I missed my freshman year of college.
  • your organization’s or company’s name
    sample guideline:
    Do not write “the” before our organization’s name.
    example: Join Boulder Writers Alliance for the March program, “When Video Meets Documentation.”
  • images
    sample guideline: State rights and ownership information under the photo, left justified.
  • tables
    sample guideline: Don’t let rows break across pages; for multi-page tables, repeat header row on each page.

Related post:

Editorial Style Guides—Types of Guides and How to Create One(includes a downloadable template)

Rita Braun writes and edits B2B publications for people who research, teach, market, and sell. Take a look at her portfolio here, and contact her here.

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